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  • Writer's pictureEric Beal

Parental Alienation: What is it?

Happy Fathers' Day!!

Fathers' Day can be great! Unless there has been Parental Alienation by the other parent.

Here's a short piece that I wrote a couple of years ago regarding Parental Alienation and what some courts have done about it. If you know someone this could help, please pass it on.


A Canadian Court got in the news recently when it took three children from their mother and gave them to their father. The news is that the court not only gave custody to the dad but cut off virtually all access of the mom. The court found that the children were victims of Parental Alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome, also known as PAS.

So what is Parent Alienation? According to a judge speaking at the 42nd Annual Advanced Family Law Seminar in Texas this last week, there’s no clear definition. Speaking as a part of a panel discussing the subject, the trial court judge stated, “what I think it is and what another judge thinks it is may be two different things,” or words to that effect.

Per the panel, some judges think that Parental Alienation does not exist unless the child states that he or she never wants to see the other parent again. Others do not have such a benchmark.

In an article entitled Differentiating between Parental Alienation Syndrome and Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect, Dr. Richard Gardner stated,

Parental alienation syndrome is a disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. In this disorder, one parent (the alienator, the alienating parent, the PAS-inducing parent) induces a program of denigration against the other parent (the alienated parent, the victim, the denigrated parent). However, this is not simply a matter of "brainwashing" or "programming" in that the children contribute their own elements into the campaign of denigration.

The American Journal of Family Therapy. Vol. 27, No. 2, p 97-107 (April-June 1999)

Citing Dr. Gardner and others, in an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Law, Dr. Ira Turat described eight specific criteria for the diagnosis of PAS:

1. A Campaign of Denigration

This includes “direct and indirect criticisms, sarcasm, distorted communications, and/or other modes of interpersonal attack.”

2. An Inadequate Rationale for the Denigration

When asked, “the manipulated children offer weak, frivolous, or even absurd rationalizations for their hatred of the targeted parent.”

3. An Absence of Ambivalent Feelings

The child’s feelings about the targeted parent lack “appropriate balance….[t]he alienated parent is seen as ‘all bad.’”

4. Alleged “Independent” Thinking

The child is encouraged by the alienating parent to believe that the thoughts are the child’s own “independent” thoughts.

5. Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent

The child “aligns unconditionally with the parent instituting the alienation campaign.”

6. An Absence of Guilt

The child feels no guilt and “the alienated parent’s feelings are generally ignored.”

7. Scenarios Which Are Borrowed from the Alienator

The child uses “the alienating parent’s stories and explanations to articulate what is wrong with the targeted parent and as a rationale for despising the alienated parent.”

8. The Animosity Is Spread to Others Associated with the Targeted Parent

The friends and family of the targeted parent may also become subject to “unwarranted hostility" and “contempt.”

Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Review of Critical Issues, 18 J. Am. Acad. Matrimonial Law. 131, 133 (2002)

The fact that even with these criteria, courts differ in their analysis of when the syndrome exists and when it doesn’t raises serious implications for parents, of course, when considering what a court can do, if it finds that the condition exists.

As illustrated by the Canadian Court this week, trial courts have few limits with respect to how far they can go in limiting the access of a parent which they have determined is “guilty” of parental alienation. The Canadian Court limited the mother to access only in conjunction with counseling and special therapy. But that is not the limit.

Texas courts have denied parents all access to their children — no possession, no phone calls, no letters, no Skype, no Face Time, no emails…nothing.

How long can a court keep a parent away from their child completely? For as long as the court thinks is appropriate, or until an appellate court determines that the trial court has abused its discretion.

If you are a parent that has been alienated, this may be good news. If you are a parent that is currently alienating, this case — and the others that have happened that have not made the news — should stand as a stark warning.

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